Evil men do not understand justice, But those who seek the Lord understand all. (Proverbs 28:5)
How often do we hear sermons on God’s mercy, on His compassion, and on His grace, yet how seldom do we receive preaching on His judgement? I’m not questioning the validity of God’s ‘softer’ attributes – these are integral to who He is, and we should keep reminding ourselves of these as much as possible, because they are the very source of our salvation and redemption.
I do not believe, however, that we can come even close to a real comprehension of His mercy until we fully understand His view on justice. I also believe, as this verse clearly reminds us, that anyone seeking the Lord and His salvation needs to understand this clearly. Unless we do, we render the full magnitude of what Jesus did for us on the cross a mere shadow of what He actually accomplished on our behalf.
To explore this, I’d like to share a ‘picture’ of the cross that He showed me when I was seeking understanding, an illustration represented in the image for today. The image was that of the cross as ‘scales of justice.’ On one side is judgement, on the other is mercy. This brought home to me a very sobering fact: God’s mercy and His judgement are in equal measure. He is a God of perfection, which includes perfect balance. We should neither weigh mercy nor judgement as being weightier than the other. In God, they are of the same measure and importance.
The second imagery that came to mind was that of the centre post: God’s grace. It is His grace that creates the balance between the two. It is His grace that reaches from heaven to earth, and which becomes the ‘means’ whereby His judgement against us is balanced by His mercy towards us. Jesus Himself is the ‘way’ from judgement to mercy. We can only ‘pass through’ the cross, and through Christ Himself, by grace, from the side of judgement to the side of mercy. It is Christ, through God’s grace, that maintains the perfect balance, because He took the punishment and the judgement that is rightfully ours. Without Christ, without the cross, without grace, the scales would tip against us.
The only way to grasp this fully is to consider the attribute of God that best represents Him: His holiness. God is, first and foremost, holy. He is holiness itself. It is the very essence of who and what He is. And when sin encounters holiness, it automatically encounters judgement. It is a simple spiritual fact. Perfect holiness is, itself, a judgement against sin.
Consider for a moment the Ark of the Covenant. This was made, on God’s instruction, to house the stone tablets – the law – and was kept in the tabernacle in the very holy of holies, the place where God’s Shekinah presence dwelt among His people. The law, which by its very nature provided the measure of man’s sinfulness, was kept in the place of the manifest glory and holiness of God. He and His law cannot be separated, just as He cannot be separated from the judgement that automatically emanates from the law.
That is the reason for the mercy seat, which was effectively the ‘lid’ of the Ark of the Covenant. Made from pure gold, with two gold cherubim to watch over it, the mercy seat was God’s grace in action, a foreshadowing of the cross. The mercy seat was placed over the law, and was the place where the blood of the sacrifices was sprinkled for the remission of the people’s sins – just as the blood of Jesus was shed for us and is now our ‘covering.’ Because of Christ and the cross, God’s mercy now covers the judgement that should be ours, and which He assumed on our behalf as the perfect sacrifice.
Recognising God’s judgement does not diminish His mercy. In fact, only when we acknowledge it does His mercy have any real meaning. Without judgement there is no need for mercy, and no need for grace. Mercy cannot exist without judgement preceding it, whether we like to remember this or not. Yet it is only when we consider that judgement, and the fact that our sin makes us so deserving of it, that we fully appreciate the magnitude of the mercy so freely given through grace.
Father, thank you for reminding me how precious is Your mercy, how undeserved Your grace. Help me to never lose sight of who You really are, and who I really am without Christ. Keep the real meaning of the cross etched on my heart, so that I may always, with humility and thanksgiving, remember from whence I have come and where I could still be but for Your choosing to love me, despite the way I am.